Friday, May 05, 2006

There's Arousal, And Then There's Arousal

Eugene Volokh has a post up at The Volokh Conspiracy arguing in favor of public bans on nudity and sex from a libertarian perspective. Item 2 argues that the arousal factor of such displays is sufficient to justify such a ban. I'm now going to proceed to dismiss (easily, in fact) this argument. This argument requires drawing a bright line between sexual arousal and other forms of physiological arousal. Sexual arousal may very well play with peoples hormones "in a way that's outside their conscious control", but does that make it sufficiently different from other potential external stimuli that it should be banned? Let's examine this subject using the ranting lunatic on a soapbox, a tool which should be familiar to Eugene. I'm walking down the street, and there's a lunatic, on a soapbox, spouting some sort of obnoxious drivel. He's going on at length about how people who watch Babylon 5 reruns need to get with it and recognize that everything after Captain Kirk is a pale, watery substance, suitable only for feeding to infants. Naturally this pisses me off, because I consider the characters in Babylon 5 to be much more well developed than anything from Star Trek and that its politics are much more sophisticated as well. I get angry, involuntarily, which triggers the physiological fight-or-flight response. Adrenaline, increased heart rate, trembling, sweating, the whole shebang. Here's the problem... I'm pretty sure that Eugene would support this lunatic's right to spout his obnoxious drivel. But, under the rubric he's set up above, his speech has triggered in me an involuntary physiological change, thus is vulnerable to regulation. Does the fact that I get red in the face rather than springing a stiffy make a difference? I would think not; I can't see any reason, especially from a libertarian perspective, to differentiate between these two arousal states. The fight-or-flight responsive can be just as "intrusive and troubling"; I personally find it much more so than plain sexual arousal. This is where Eugene's argument falls short; in order to be consistent you'd end up having to ban other acts which trigger involuntary physiological responses, sweeping up a wide variety of activities which everyone agrees should be permissible.

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